University of Washington professor Paul Ngheim has found that moderate consumption of caffeine reduced the impact of ultraviolet rays on exposed skin.
In the lab, caffeine seems to cause UV damaged cells to literally hit a figurative self-destruct button, like the climax of a typical mad scientist film, while letting normal, undamaged cells move along and go about their business unharmed.
There is even the possibility of adding caffeine to sunblock, so one could purchase a grande, SPF 50 lotion. More...
"ATR is essential to damaged cells that are growing rapidly, Nghiem said, and caffeine specifically targets damaged cells that can become cancerous. Caffeine more than doubles the number of damaged cells that will die normally after a given dose of UV," he remarked.
"This is a biological mechanism that explains what we have been seeing for many years from the oral intake of caffeine," he added.
The findings were published online Feb. 26 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
But, Nghiem added, people shouldn't increase the amount of coffee or tea they drink to prevent skin cancer. "You are talking a lot of cups for a lot of years for a relatively small effect," he said. "But if you like it, it's another reason to drink it."
Nghiem has also been experimenting with applying caffeine directly to the skin. "It suppresses skin cancer development by as much as 72 percent in mice, and human studies are moving ahead slowly," he said.
It's possible that topical caffeine preparations might one day be used to help prevent skin cancer, Nghiem said. "Caffeine is both a sunscreen and it deletes damaged cells," he said. "It may well make sense to put it into a sunscreen preparation."
Dr. Robin Ashinoff, a dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University's Langone Medical Center, cautioned that these findings need to be verified before they can have any clinical application.
"This study tells me that caffeine may be a useful ingredient topically to remove ultraviolet-genetically damaged cells from reproducing," Ashinoff said. "This may help prevent the development of skin cancer."
This new treatment could be enjoyed even by members of the new Star Trek movie, where the good news is that they've gone back to the 1960's "jammie" style of uniform (now in production)